THE persecution of Christians, at home and overseas, has often been overlooked.
The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, recently commissioned the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, to conduct an independent review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) support for persecuted Christians. The final report of this review has now been published.
This report shines a spotlight on the persecution of Christians around the globe. I would like to thank the Foreign Secretary for launching the review, and congratulate the Bishop of Truro and his team on producing such a comprehensive report in such a short timeframe.
Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights sets out that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Freedom from religious persecution is a fundamental human right. But its importance does not stop there. Freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is an important ingredient of peace, stability, and prosperity. Therefore, in defending and promoting freedom of religion or belief, we build capacity for peace.
In a covering letter accompanying the submission, the Archbishop of Westminster and the Archbishop of Canterbury stated: “Christians form an important part of the social fabric in almost every country of the world. Yet in many places, our Christian sisters and brothers face persecution of an intensity and extent unprecedented in many centuries.”
FOR too long, this persecution has often gone unchecked. Governments like our own have failed to speak up when followers of Christ are persecuted. The situation facing many Christians around the world is increasingly urgent and the FCO’s renewed focus on their plight is indeed welcome.
I would like, however, to echo the Archbishops’ calls for the review to be expanded to include other Whitehall departments and bodies. The Government’s work promoting FoRB should not be seen as an isolated strand of diplomatic activity, but incorporated into aid, trade, resettlement, asylum, and security policy.
As we leave the European Union, and commence trade negotiations with countries around the world, human rights should be at the heart of trade negotiations. Future Human Rights and Democracy Reports should include a summary of trade agreements with human-rights priority countries and human-rights standards incorporated in them — including those relating to FoRB.
As the review has been reported, the term “Christophobia” has become increasingly used to describe negative attitudes to Christians. Personally, I find this term quite offensive. Christ came to save all — the term “Christophobia” suggests an irrational fear of Christ himself. This is deeply unhelpful and incompatible with Christ’s message of hope. Perhaps a better label to use would be “Christianophobia” — this then links persecution to followers of Christ, rather than Christ himself.
Better still, I would like to point to the remarks the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, made in the House of Lords last week: “We do not need a definition to know that this persecution is real and ongoing. Our focus now should be on how we arrive at interventions that can end this predicament.”
I would urge all to unite in acting to end the persecution of Christians, and those of other faiths, around the globe. In the words of Pope Francis: “Every person has the right to profess his or her own religious creed freely and without constraint.”
Dame Caroline Spelman is MP for Meriden and the Second Church Estates Commissioner.